Make no mistake about it, the past three months have been a tumultuous time in the life of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. The veteran entered the 2019 off-season in the last year of his contract, and while an extension had been discussed, nothing was ever close to being agreed upon. With the new campaign on the horizon, Green had missed 13 contests over the last three seasons, including seven in 2018, and was looking forward to proving he could stay healthy in his contract season.
At age 31, this would likely be Green’s last chance at securing a lucrative long-term deal, and with new head coach Zac Taylor preparing to install a potentially exciting new offense, he was ready to re-establish himself as one of the game’s premier pass-catchers. Unfortunately, Green sustained an ankle injury on the first day of training camp and ever since that fateful day, he’s been one of the 2019 NFL season’s biggest ongoing stories.
Initially, Green was expected to miss a few regular-season contests, with many prognosticators anticipating him seeing the field by Week 4 or Week 5. While that obviously didn’t happen, his return to NFL action finally appears imminent as a Week 10 date with the Baltimore Ravens now appears to be the target. However, with his contract set to expire in the off-season, and on a team in transition, the questions surrounding his future aren’t likely to quiet down any time soon.
What’s Next for Bengals Receiver A.J. Green?
For starters, it goes without saying that this year has been a disaster for the Bengals. Winless over their first eight contests, it’s been an absolute nightmare scenario and 2019 has already become a lost season. During this past week, the Bengals made a switch at quarterback, benching long-time starter Andy Dalton, in favor of rookie fourth-rounder Ryan Finley.
It was a logical move for an 0-8 franchise that has a legitimate chance at finishing last in 2019. By giving Finley some game day reps, the Bengals have some time to assess whether he can be a long-term solution or if they need to go all out to acquire a franchise passer in the draft next year.
However, a decision that has come under much more scrutiny is the Bengals’ choice to refuse all trade offers for Green, holding onto their star wideout as he potentially prepares for free agency. While there’s little doubt the ninth-year pro can still be a difference-making talent, he’s a luxury for a currently cellar-dwelling squad, and could have been flipped for draft picks that would help this franchise tremendously as it prepares for a rebuild.
There was reportedly a lot of interest in Green as the deadline approached, but the Bengals wouldn’t budge from their stance. What’s done is done, but the burning question is whether Green will remain a Bengal for much longer.
Green has never been the type of player to create a distraction or attempt to force his way out of town, but now that the trade deadline has passed, he is seeking long-term security from the only team he’s ever known. In a recent interview, Green made it very clear he’s not interested in being franchise tagged in the off-season:
“I’m not into a one-year,” Green said on Wednesday. “Give me a long-term (contract) or just let me go.”
The sentiment is completely understandable. The veteran has been a selfless, team-first player for the entirety of his career and fully understands the importance of his next deal. If the Bengals were to apply the franchise tag during the off-season as he enters his age-32 campaign, he wouldn’t hit the open market until 2021. At this point, his age would be an even greater deterrent to a long-term contract.
While Green stated later in the interview that he wouldn’t hold out if the tag was applied, the Bengals need to do right by their star player and honor his request. Yes, the NFL is a business, but a player of his stature has earned this financial security and a franchise tag damages his chances of ever receiving it.
Many pundits have suggested Green will move on in the off-season, but to his credit, he still maintains that he’s happy in Cincinnati and is merely seeking fair compensation. If that comes from the Bengals, he appears content to stay. But if it comes from another franchise, so be it.
A Potential Windfall
It goes without saying that there will be a robust market for Green’s talents should he ever reach free agency. Since 2018, there have been 10 wide receivers to sign contracts worth an annual average salary greater than the $15 million a year Green received on his last contract (per Spotrac). In fact, four wideouts are raking in $18 million or better per season, including Julio Jones ($22 million), Michael Thomas ($19,250,000), Odell Beckham Jr. ($18 million), and Tyreek Hill ($18 million).
Jones’ name stands out the most from that list because he was drafted sixth overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2011, a mere two picks after the Bengals selected Green, and the two men have gone on to have comparable careers. While there is little doubt that Jones has stayed healthier and reached statistical heights that Green hasn’t (Jones’ situation has been considerably better), the fact remains that Green has actually been to one more Pro Bowl (seven to six) and has three double-digit touchdown seasons to Jones’ one.
It’s pretty clear that while his lack of recent health will make it nearly impossible to better Jones’ contract, he’s clearly worth a lot to any franchise. The veteran clearly deserves to get paid and if the Bengals aren’t prepared to open the vault for him, someone else will.
A.J. Green has been one of the most productive and consistent receivers in recent NFL history, and regardless of where his future leads, it will be a treat to have him back on the field in 2019. Look for the stud pass-catcher to make an immediate impact for a team that desperately needs a spark the minute he steps on the field.
While questions about his future don’t figure to subside any time soon, the NFL is better when he’s out there making plays. There’s a lot of football left in 2019 and the off-season is still a long way away. For the time being, Green is a Cincinnati Bengal and being the consummate professional that he is, helping this team get back on track will remain his only focus.
What happens next is very much up in the air, but getting there is half the fun. Expect to hear a lot more about Green over the coming months, because this story is just getting started.